The Illusive X-37

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Is it a plane, a rocket, a shuttle, or a little of all three? (or a red herring)

It sure is cute!

09N_DJ10_main“…The X-37 embodies the Air Force’s desire for an operational spaceplane, a wish that dates to the 1950s, the era of the rocket-powered X-15 and X-20. In other ways, though, the X-37 will be picking up where another U.S. spaceplane, NASA’s space shuttle, leaves off.

With a wingspan of 15 feet and a length of 27.5 feet, the X-37 looks like a tiny space shuttle. It has a blunt (though windowless) nose, and one rocket engine bell instead of the shuttle’s three. Two cargo doors open just as the shuttle’s do, revealing a four- by seven-foot bay. Like the shuttle, the X-37 was designed for low Earth orbits—in the latter’s case, altitudes of 125 to 575 miles. And the craft will fly like a shuttle, reentering the atmosphere with the orbiter’s 40-degree nose-high attitude. After reentry, it will change to a 20-degree nose-down glide and, flying at up to 220 mph, land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, with Edwards Air Force Base as an alternate….”

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